One of the religious communities that I deeply respect is the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity sisters in Viet Nam. For me, they live Saint Mother Teresa’s spirituality to the fullest sense of the word.
The Archbishop of Sai Gon always wanted Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity sisters to serve the poor in Viet Nam. They were actually present in the country in 1973 but were disbanded in 1975 when South Viet Nam was lost. Even though the original group was gone from the country, the Archbishop gave permission to a group of consecrated women who wanted to live her spirituality in 1979. He continually asked Mother to come to Viet Nam to train and form them, hoping one day, they will be able to join the official community. They were instructed by her and she visited them several times in her lifetime. However, the communist government always created problems for Mother and the sisters. She was discouraged and worried about the sisters, but asked them to persevere. The Archbishop of Sai Gon at that time, through her supports and encouragements, approved a diocesan religious community that reflects and lives her spirituality. They hoped that one day, this diocesan religious community would be able to join the larger Missionaries of Charity family when political tensions are settled. Nevertheless, God has blessed and turned this little community into a beacon of Christian love and charity in Viet Nam. They continue to exist and got the blessing from Mother Teresa’s successors to continue the mission as given to them by Mother without the need to join the worldwide family. These sisters, in my opinion, are living the Teresian spirituality even though they might not wear the easily-identifiable habit that many people had come to know and love.
I respect them because they dare to live what they “preach.” Their cares for the poor speak very loudly of their love for Christ. I first lived and interacted with them when I went to our seminary-sponsored mission trip in 2010. In my opinion, that encounter was one of those divine providence connections because I fell in love and at home with them at the moment I met them.
Their simplicity is humbling and their joy is contagious.
From the first moment that I saw how they live and serve the poor, I immediately fell in love with their lifestyle. They teach me — by their way of life — that we really do not need a lot in order to live fully. Second, joy is simple and can be readily found. We only are unhappy when we overcomplicate things and lose focus on what is important. Finally, they challenge me to see that love is not just a nice word to say, but a worthy — and many times, hard — calling to truly live what we preach. Their simplicity and joy, as well as perseverance and faithfulness, make me and all those who come to know them feel at home because they make each encounter a welcoming one. Their willingness to care and be present to the people in their midst make one’s feel safe and welcome. Perhaps that is why I feel connected and have a personal sense of affinity for the sisters and their selfless dedication to the poorest of the poor.
This is not an easy life. Sometimes we overidealized or romanticized missionary or charitable works beyond what they truly are. They are hard! Each day has its own challenges. It is not easy to serve the poorest of the poor because our humanity and their humanity often clash with one another. It is not easy to work with orphans, nor it is simple to work with disabled or handicapped people. It is hard to be present to those who are battered by life and to be loving or encouraging to those who are rough around the edges. It takes a lot of commitment and perseverance to do all of that day in and day out. Yet, these sisters are doing them with joy because they want to be true to their calling to satiate the Lord’s thirst and to let people know of His love for them. Do they fail and fall short? Yes… As with all of us! Yet, what I learn from them is their willingness to own up to their humanity and continue to love even though it is hard. From the sisters, I have learned true love is not just about words or being together when things go right. True love is the ability to be faithful and continue to give until it hurts, as well as to find small moments of joy in the midst of those trying times.
Perhaps that is why I have found myself fallen in love with Teresian spirituality more and more each day. Even though I am a diocesan priest, I have a great devotion and desire to imitate Mother Teresa’s love and way of life. There is something very attractive about it. Even though I cannot explain it in words, my heart is filled with joy when I contemplate and imitate her prayerful lifestyle and love for the poor. It is not easy, but it is so full of simple — and, at the same time, profound — joy. Her way of life really attracted me ever since I was a seminarian. I respected her when I first heard of her as a kid. There is just something special about the radicalness of her loving service and prayerful perseverance. She has taught me that when the going gets hard, we have to be harder in our perseverance and steadfast in prayer. Mother Teresa and her forty years of “dark nights of the soul” taught me the ultimate lesson of faithfulness and love.
The motto for Mother Teresa and her sisters is “I thirst.” (John 19:28) These two words can be found simply written next to the crucifix in every one of their chapels. They are a reminder of the Lord’s thirst for us and our thirst for Him. This is also a great reminder of our calling to satiate the Lord’s thirst and love for humanity through our service of our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest of the poor. That is why I have chosen this scriptural passage and spiritual reminder to be the theme of my new blog. In a way, I hope that what I am going to share in the future will remind you and me of God’s immense and loving thirst for us. For me, writing reflections is a way to pray as I reflect for myself first. I hope what I have prayed and written about will be relatable to you somehow. I hope they invoke and remind you of our thirst for God as we all try to make choices to satiate this divine thirst with our own love for Him and our brothers and sisters.
I hope we can help each other in our commitment to service, strengthened by prayer and made pure with simple joy. I truly believe that our joy is not measured by the quantifiable things we that possess but in the quality of love and commitment we have for one another, with Him, through Him, and in Him. Therefore, let us pray and help one another along the way.